Over 230 Million Female Genital Mutilation Survivors Worldwide, Reports UNICEF

The Latest Report on Female Genital Mutilation: A Global Perspective

According to a new report released by UNICEF on Thursday, the number of survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) has reached over 230 million worldwide, marking a 15 percent increase since 2016. Despite progress in combating this harmful practice in some countries, the overall numbers are alarming.

“This is indeed distressing news. The numbers are larger than ever before,” stated Claudia Coppa, the lead author of the report, which was published to coincide with International Women’s Day.

FGM involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora, and sometimes the suturing of the vaginal opening. This practice can lead to severe complications such as fatal bleeding, infections, fertility problems, childbirth complications, stillbirth, and painful sexual intercourse.

The report reveals that Africa has the highest number of FGM survivors, with over 144 million cases, followed by Asia (80 million) and the Middle East (six million). The increase in numbers is primarily due to population growth in certain regions, although there has been progress in reducing the prevalence of FGM in some areas.

For instance, in Sierra Leone, the percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who have undergone FGM has decreased from 95 percent to 61 percent over 30 years. Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Kenya also reported significant declines.

However, in countries like Somalia, 99 percent of women between 15 and 49 have experienced FGM, along with 95 percent in Guinea, 90 percent in Djibouti, and 89 percent in Mali.

UNICEF’s chief, Catherine Russell, emphasized the urgency of addressing this issue, especially as more girls are subjected to FGM at younger ages. She stated, “We need to strengthen efforts to end this harmful practice.”

The report also highlights the challenges in eradicating FGM by 2030, as outlined in the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development. Changing social norms and perceptions around FGM, which has deep roots in many societies, requires time and concerted efforts.

“In some societies, FGM is seen as a necessary rite of passage or a way to control girls’ sexuality,” Coppa explained. Mothers who oppose the practice may still feel pressured to conform due to social expectations and potential repercussions for their daughters, such as difficulties in marriage.

UNICEF continues to advocate for laws prohibiting FGM and stresses the importance of girls’ education in combating this practice. Additionally, the role of men and boys is crucial, as their silence can be interpreted as acceptance. Coppa emphasized the need for everyone to take a stand against FGM to create a safer and healthier future for women and girls worldwide.

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